Human Missions To Mars

You may have noticed that we have a new banner image of our Direct Fusion Drive (DFD) transfer vehicle with the Orion spacecraft.

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv/index.html

This is because we have been able to shrink the spacecraft so that it fits on top of a single NASA Space Launch System (SLS)

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/

Evolved Configuration launcher which can launch up to 130 metric tons into low earth orbit! The first mission would be to orbit Mars for a few days and then return to Earth. The vehicle would remain in orbit around the Earth. The next SLS launch would bring up a second transfer stage with the lander. A third launch would bring up another Orion and the crew for the landing mission.

The DFD transfer vehicles stay in low-earth orbit where they can be used for a variety of missions, such as deflecting asteroids or lunar missions.

We are currently working on the mission design along with conceptual designs of the transfer vehicle and Mars lander. A key consideration in the mission plan is keeping the astronauts healthy so astronaut physiology is a key part of our research.

Our colleagues at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

http://www.pppl.gov

are running two experiments that support DFD. One is PFRC-2, Princeton Field Reversed Configuration 2, which is testing the reactor core. Here you see the experiment in action!

PFRC2

and MNX which is studying magnetic nozzles. We have two more test reactors planned, PFRC-3 and PFRC-4. The last will burn deuterium and helium-3 to produce fusion power. After that we will be ready to build a space version of the fusion propulsion system.

Of course, this reactor could be used for terrestrial power generation. In future posts we’ll talk about sources of helium-3 and alternative fuels that could power this reactor.

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